In these days of Amazon and declining town centres, I try to support our local bookshop. So when the man from Waterstone’s said “It’s a great book; read it,” I bought it and read it. And it has changed my life, a bit.
To be fair I had already read some reviews of this international best-seller along with one extended extract on a subject I had always found intriguing.
And the bonus, as I was later to discover, is that the author who is Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California (and therefore an eminent academic on top of his subject) was born and raised in Liverpool. I assume he supports EFC.
Here it is on my desk: Matthew Walker – Why we sleep.
To summarise the book in three words: we need sleep. Two more words: a lot.
Walker handles his material well and with purpose: he writes well. Essentially, he sets out a convincing case that that sleep is vitally important — even more important than diet and exercise.
And don’t kid yourself – we all need sleep, at least seven hours a night. Especially the last two hours, which can so easily be snatched away by the alarm clock.
Walker writes with a passion. He argues that the invention of the electric light (which allows us to ignore the daily rhythm of sunrise and sunset) along with the pervasiveness of caffeine has wrecked our sleep pattern.
I skimmed the chapters where he demonstrates how sleep deprivation contributes to chronic illnesses such as dementia, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Not to mention road traffic accidents. Walker had already convinced me that a lack of sleep is now one of our greatest public health challenges.
One fact I found stunning.
“There is a ‘global experiment’ that is performed on 1.6 billion people across 70 countries twice a year, and it’s called daylight saving time. In the spring when we lose one hour of sleep, we see a subsequent 24 percent increase in heart attacks. In the fall, when we gain one hour of sleep, we see a 21 percent decrease in heart attacks. That is how fragile your body is with even the smallest perturbations of sleep, but most of us don’t think anything about losing an hour of sleep.”
So how has it changed my life? Well, I no longer take my smartphone to bed. It stays downstairs on my desk.
And more, I am aiming to implement the most important lesson of the book – to go to bed at the same time every night so as to wake up at the same time every day.
Looking back on my ministry I now value even more my News at Ten rule. That is, I always aim to be home for 10.00 pm, which gives me 30 minutes to relax before going to bed at 10.45.
As a church leader I owe it to church members that they too can be home by 10.00 pm especially if they have a proper job. (Actually I failed the PCC this last Tuesday – mea culpa).
Here I quote a poem which I am sure could be endorsed by Professor Walker:
Mary had a little lamb
It was for her to keep
It then became a Baptist
And died for lack of sleep.
But this is how God has made us, in fact every single living organism on this planet. We are, to quote Psalm 130, “fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
Sleep is an integral part of how we are made. Forget the Thatcher years when sleep was considered a waste of time. It’s an invaluable gift of God.
And more: while Walker totally debunks Freud’s theory on dreams (that’s a relief) he demonstrates, again very convincingly, that sleeping enhances creativity. Here our brain sorts itself out overnight. So Paul McCartney awakes with the melody which was to become the most-covered song ever.
For sleep allows us to see things in a new light. Hence the phrase: “I’ll sleep on it.” So in the New Testament, Joseph and then the apostle Paul for example, change direction, in Paul’s case literally, following a night’s sleep.
So if at all possible we aim to make decisions, especially important ones, in the cold light of morning, when our minds following sleep are more lucid and less prone to our immediate emotions.
So the King David rejoices:
“I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.
I am not afraid of tens of thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.” (Psalm 3:5f)
He went to sleep troubled, fearful of all those set against him. And he awakes refreshed, now confident of God’s sustenance. It’s a new day dawning.